How the Cincinnati Reds Ruined Their Window

Over the last nine games of the season, the Cincinnati Reds were 2-7, including their National League Wild Card loss in Pittsburgh, which would be their fifth loss against the Pirates in the nine game span. Needless to say, after a disappointing collapse in the 2012 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the collapse at the end of the 2013 season wasn’t pleasing to the fans, or the front office. Dusty Baker was canned shortly thereafter, replaced by pitching coach Bryan Price, who, in his first year as manager, has been dealt with the task of rebuilding a roster with a lot of question marks into a perennial power, all the while continuing to look up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who have built a system of winning from within.

Now, the Reds must replace their lead-off hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, who only managed a .423 on-base percentage and 107 runs scored while reaching base 305 times by hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch, after watching Choo run to the Texas Rangers in free agency for seven-years, $130 million.

BruceCertainly, it wasn’t within the budget to re-up with Choo at $18.7 million per year, not with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips combining to make $33 million in 2014, $38 million in 2015, and $45.5 million in 2016, that is, of course, if one of them isn’t traded. The Reds have long had a payroll between $80 and $100 million under current owner Bob Castellini, but is it time to start questioning what the long-term goal of the franchise is, after sputtering around the free agent market while trying to replace their best lead-off hitter since Joe Morgan and Pete Rose were flapping and flopping around Riverfront Stadium. Whether television contracts and Major League Baseball Advanced Media revenue will allow the “small-market” Reds to increase their payroll further is a valid question, but with Matt Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake under team-control through 2015, and Homer Bailey headed towards free agency after the 2014 season, how else can the team remain contenders, especially with St. Louis constantly reloading and the Chicago Cubs reaching their contention window, just as the Reds is becoming questionable?

This offseason was difficult, clearly. The Reds couldn’t be in on Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or any other big-name free agent, but with very little money to spend, GM Walt Jocketty could have been more active in the trade market, or at least the minor league free agent route. Dick Williams, the VP of Baseball Operations, told me during the Reds’ caravan that the club lost out on Grady Sizemore due to his relationship with one of Boston’s trainers, who had been with Cleveland during his time there. While Sizemore wasn’t a lock to produce, or stay healthy, he fit the bill as a low-cost centerfield option. He wasn’t a leadoff hitter, though, at least he hadn’t shown those skills since his last somewhat healthy season, 2009. Which left the club with little choice but to give their in-house candidate, Billy Hamilton, the job.

The issue with Hamilton, though, is that, though he has otherworldly speed, is he capable of thriving long-term in center, a position that he has been playing since the start of the 2012 season. His experience in Triple-A left a lot to be desired, as he posted a .256/.308/.343 triple-slash, stealing 75 bases and scoring 75 runs in 123 games for Louisville. We all know about his brief September audition, when Dusty Baker allowed him to receive all of 22 plate appearances, while Baker pinch-ran him often to allow the speedy Mississippian to accumulate 13 stolen bases in 14 tries.

In addition to plugging Hamilton into center, here is the laundry list of exciting moves that the Reds have made this winter:

October: Signed LHP Trevor Reckling and RHP Timothy Adleman to minor league contracts; signed OF Jason Bourgeois to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training;

November: Signed LHP Manny Parra, 2B Skip Schumaker, and C Brayan Pena to major league contracts; Signed OF Mike Wilson, LHP Nick Schmidt, and RHP Ross Ismail to minor league contracts; Signed C Max Ramirez, LHP Lee Hyde, and 3B Rey Navarro to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

December: Signed 3B Ruben Gotay and RHP Trevor Bell to minor league contracts; Invited non-roster RHP Jose Diaz and 2B Kristopher Negron to Spring Training; Signed RHP Chien-Ming Wang, C Corky Miller, and SS Argenis Diaz to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training; Acquired LHP David Holmberg from Arizona for Ryan Hanigan;

January: Sign RHP Bob Keppel, RHP Sean Black, OF Thomas Neal, LHP Jeff Francis, 2B John Tolisano, and 2B Hernan Iribarren to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

So, the club lost Shin-Soo Choo, Xavier Paul, and Derrick Robinson from last season’s 90-72 squad, so why should fans feel like this offseason is a failure?

Well, Choo’s production won’t be replaced by Hamilton, speed or no speed. Even if Hamilton increases his on-base percentage to .340 over 600 plate appearances, he doesn’t have the patient approach that Choo had, and, while he can move himself from base to base with his wheels, he just won’t be on as often. If Choo’s production is a clear downgrade, where are they upgrading?

Mesoraco1Is Devin Mesoraco set for a breakout season, replacing the putrid production that Ryan Hanigan provided in 2013? Is Todd Frazier going to post an .829 OPS, as he did in 2012, or something similar to his .721 OPS from 2013? Is Zack Cozart even worth starting anymore, given his career .680 OPS over 1,256 plate appearances? Ryan Ludwick had a nice 2012 and his 2013 was ruined due to his Opening Day shoulder injury, but was he ever worth a two-year, $15 million extension, especially when you consider it was back-loaded with an option for 2015, making him guaranteed $13 million, including his 2015 buyout? Brandon Phillips, 103 RBI or not, saw his OPS fall to .705 in 2013. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce seem like locks for success, but Bruce continues to be one of the streakiest players in all of baseball, while Votto’s patience seems to have overtaken his ability to actually produce at his 2010 MVP level ever again.

As far as the rotation, it remains pretty deep, but once you get past the top five, there are question marks. While that wouldn’t be a huge deal for most clubs, you have to remember that Johnny Cueto only had one full season and he immediately got hurt in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. Bailey, Latos, and Leake are very good options, and Tony Cingrani was impressive, even with just one good pitch, but having Wang, Francis, and nothing else as fallback options is rough, which may lead to the club rushing top prospect Robert Stephenson if there was an injury in 2014, not to mention how the rotation is going to function if Bailey leaves via free agency or Cueto’s 2015 option isn’t picked up. Who will be starting games and why don’t the Reds have options waiting like the Cardinals?

The bullpen is still built to dominate, as Aroldis Chapman is as shutdown as it gets. A full season of Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, a former closer in his own right, serving as a setup man, and J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Manny Parra, and Alfredo Simon rounding out the group helps the Reds bullpen look tremendous for another season…but a bullpen doesn’t have a lot of value if they aren’t protecting more leads than deficits.

The Reds haven’t been active enough. The Reds haven’t drafted enough high-ceiling talent. The Reds haven’t had enough success on the international market.

Braun1The Reds are a lot like the Milwaukee Brewers, locking up talent for just a little while, and then watching that talent and the contention window fly way in the breeze. You see, the Brewers were a competitive team until Prince Fielder left. They traded a lot of good, young talent to acquire Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia to help them contend. They bought in to that window and went for it. It is hard for a small-market to commit a lot of money to talent like Greinke and Sabathia, only to watch them leave for big-markets once they hit free agency, but the revenue that comes with a playoff run or a World Series title would alleviate a lot of those dollars. The Brewers, then, went into quite a funk the last several seasons, and they have yet to recover, but the worst part is that their farm system is terrible. If Ryan Braun doesn’t rebound, the club still has Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, but the rest of the organization is quite barren.

The Reds are a lot like the Brewers because they haven’t had many successful recent drafts. While a lot of the key names on the major league roster are homegrown, there isn’t a whole lot of depth currently in the minor league system. The Reds did trade a couple of solid young players (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Brad Boxberger) to acquire Mat Latos and Choo (Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs), but outside of Stephenson and Hamilton, much of the high-level talent was in Low-A or the Rookie levels last season, specifically Phillip Ervin, Jesse Winker, and Nick Travieso.

So, what will happen when 2015 rolls around without an Oscar Taveras waiting to take over left field for Ludwick? Who fills the rotation without a Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon ready to step in for A.J. Burnett? Who will push Todd Frazier at third base without a Kris Bryant or Javier Baez?

While the Reds and Brewers have weaker farm systems and question marks at several spots, the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates have done it right. They have managed to stay active and have taken risks with draft picks to make sure that they are getting the talent necessary to maintain solid depth within their organization. Sure, the Pirates and Cubs have had higher picks due to their lack of success over the years, but the Cardinals have a lot of talent and they haven’t had a season below .500 since 2007, while making the playoffs in 11 of the last 18 seasons, including four World Series and two titles.

PujolsThe conservative nature of the current regime in Cincinnati may not look awful as the Reds compete in 2014, but when Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have their high-level minor league talent stepping in within the next two to three seasons, Reds fans will forget about the nightmares that Albert Pujols used to bring, and will instead be kept awake by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras, and others who will make their names in the depths of the thriving systems in the rest of the National League Central. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Reds will continue to cry small-market when they have, instead, chosen to be smarter at the right times.

There are still names on the free agent market that can help the Reds contend, but none of them will make them as good as they were last season, in 2012, or in 2010, when Cincinnati has reached the playoffs. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point to scrap what has been built. Instead, run out there with what you have and hope for the best, which, apparently, was Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini’s plan all offseason.

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The Hot Stove Has Caught On Fire

It certainly hasn’t taken long for teams to begin dishing out large contracts that they’ll probably regret in a couple of years with free agency well under way. However, the last 24 to 48 hours have supplied the greatest number of gifts, with a lot of examples of “huh”, “why”, “seriously”, and “come again” worthy reactions.

The Trades

The Doug Fister Trade

Detroit Tigers get: 2B Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol, and LHP Robbie Ray

Washington Nationals get: RHP Doug Fister

FisterIt has to be called the Doug Fister trade because no one really cares about any of the players that the Tigers got back, right? If this wasn’t a total salary dump, I don’t know what it was, as the “prize” return for the Tigers is Ray, who was a 10th round pick in 2010 and had a 6.56 ERA in 2012 in his first attempt at High-A Potomac before bouncing back and having a solid season between High-A and Double-A in 2013, really doesn’t seem like a tremendous prospect; though, we have been proven wrong by Dave Dombrowski before. After the Tampa Bay Rays received one of the top young prospects in baseball, Wil Myers, in return for two controllable seasons of James Shields, you would think that the Tigers could have received more for Fister, who had managed to post an impressive 32-20 record to go along with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 440.2 innings with Detroit. Fister now joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez within the Washington rotation, making the Nationals strong contenders for first-year manager Matt Williams in 2014.

Winner: Washington Nationals.

Smelling Fowler

Houston Astros get: CF Dexter Fowler

Colorado Rockies get: RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes

Fowler1Fowler seemed to be on the trading block for some time, but he was finally dealt on Tuesday. The Astros get two affordable seasons (two-years, $11.6 million) of Fowler while they wait for George Springer to prove himself ready, or…they just acquired a nicer trade chip than what they gave up. Jordan Lyles may still be just 23 years old, but he hasn’t put it together in 377 major league innings, posting a 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9, and it seems very unlikely that shifting to Coor’s Field is going to assist his progression to sudden success. Brandon Barnes has some ability, but it isn’t as an everyday player, as his atrocious 127:21 K:BB and .635 OPS over 445 plate appearances goes to show. Barnes could be a fourth outfielder for the Rockies, with Carlos Gonzalez sliding over to center and Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson battling it out for the left field job, or Colorado could look to free agency to upgrade in center. This deal didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Rockies unless they saw something in Lyles and didn’t feel that Fowler would ever live up to his hot start from 2013, when he posted a 1.032 OPS and then fell off of the face of the earth. Even if Fowler doesn’t live up to those numbers, he is the most valuable piece in the deal.

Winner: Houston Astros.

The Unimpressive Three-Way

Cincinnati Reds get: LHP David Holmberg.

Tampa Bay Rays get: RHP Heath Bell and cash from Arizona, and C Ryan Hanigan from Cincinnati.

Arizona Diamondbacks get: RHP Justin Choate and a PTBNL

The Rays are always viewed as a smart club and they were able to land another potential closer after losing Fernando Rodney to free agency, leaving the club with Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to battle it out for the gig. On top of that, they received an excellent framing catcher in Hanigan, who has proved to be quite valuable to Cincinnati over the last several years in game-calling, while inking the backstop to a three-year extension upon the completion of the deal. The bad part, though, is that both Bell and Hanigan weren’t very good last season, with Hanigan, in particular, looking like a nightmare offensively, posting a .198/.306/.261 line over 260 plate appearances, leading to the Reds leaning on Brayan Pena, who was signed to a two-year deal earlier this winter, and Devin Mesoraco, the young, power-hitting catcher who will finally get a full-time look in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks dumped some salary while dealing Bell for a young, breathing body. Choate pitched in the New York-Penn League in 2013 at the age of 22 and he isn’t much of a prospect. The Reds dumped Hanigan, who was arbitration-eligible, while getting a 22-year-old left-handed starter, who posted a 2.75 ERA in 26 Double-A starts in 2013 with a 116:50 K:BB in 157.1 innings. While Holmberg wasn’t as sexy as Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley within the Diamondbacks system, he could become a solid back of the rotation arm or a Sean Marshall-like relief pitcher for the Reds. The good news for Cincinnati is that Mesoraco gets his shot and Holmberg adds some near-ready pitching depth after the likely departure of Bronson Arroyo via free agency.

Winner: Everyone looks like a winner here, as the deal worked well for all three teams, but the Rays received the most help in assisting the team win in 2013.

Why Did Beane Make That (Michael) Choice?

Texas Rangers get: OF Michael Choice and 2B Chris Bostick

Oakland A’s get: OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom

ChoiceThis seemed like an odd deal for Oakland and GM Billy Beane, as Gentry is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and Lindblom has been pretty terrible since being traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in the 2012 Shane Victorino deal, as he has posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 54.2 innings since leaving Los Angeles (2.91 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 77.1 innings prior to the trade). Maybe a return to the west coast is what Lindblom needs to be a useful reliever, but by getting the elite defensive skills and increasing salary of the light-hitting (.280/.355/.366 in 763 plate appearances), 29-year-old Gentry, and giving up the potential that still exists in the bat of Michael Choice, who is 24 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2017, Beane showed that he may be looking beyond three years from now and that he could be putting the A’s in win-now mode. Bostick is a nice second base prospect, having posted a .282/.354/.452 line over 555 plate appearances as a 20-year-old in Low-A in 2013, but the Rangers have quite a few young, up-the-middle prospects (Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Luis Sardinas) and they don’t seem to have a need there, while the A’s have run Jemile Weeks out of town in a trade with Baltimore and Eric Sogard was very…meh…in 2013 at the major league level. Winning now is important, but it doesn’t seem like the A’s really acquired anyone who can really help them in 2014 to get over the hump.

Winner: Texas Rangers.

The Free Agent Splashes

The Yankees Spend Like Crazy…Again.

Who They Signed: C Brian McCann (five-years, $85 million); OF Jacoby Ellsbury (seven-years, $153 million);

McCannWhy It Matters: Notice that the Yankees have committed nearly $240 million after having been rumored to be on a mission to avoid the $189 million threshold of the payroll luxury tax, while not having signed their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, just yet. And, don’t forget, the team is rumored to be interested in signing Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who could be had at a lesser amount after the posting fee was limited to a maximum $20 million bid on Wednesday. McCann is a huge upgrade over the combined .213/.289/.298 triple slash that Yankees’ catchers posted in 2013, while Ellsbury provides great defense and speed as the Yankees try to move on from all of the injuries that suffocated their success this past season. Even if the Yankees are done with the big name signings, including Cano, they should be a better team in 2014.

Twinkies Filled Their Rotation

Who Minnesota Signed: RHP Phil Hughes (three-year, $24 million); RHP Ricky Nolasco (four-year, $49 million);

Why It Matters: The Twins starting pitchers posted a 5.26 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 2013, worst in the majors, and the ERA was a whopping 0.45 points higher than the Toronto Blue Jays’ starters (4.81), who finished 29th. Hughes still has youth and potential, but he needs to start tapping into that potential after posting a horrific 5.19 ERA over 29 starts and 145.2 innings. Shockingly, Hughes’ numbers would have made him a solid number three starter for the Twins in 2013…they were that bad. Adding Nolasco was special, but he isn’t an ace. He will likely be the Twins’ Opening Day starter in 2014 by default and he should make the rotation slightly better; although, it couldn’t get much worse.

Kazmir Rejuvenates and Cashes In Athletically

Who Oakland Signed: LHP Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million)

Why It Matters: Signing Kazmir to a lucrative contract could lead to another movie about the Oakland A’s after the success of Moneyball. While Kazmir’s resurgence was quite surprising, an eight-figure deal, after making all of one total appearance in the majors in 2011 and 2012 due to severe shoulder woes, was even more surprising. Possessing a mid-90’s fastball and a left arm appears to be all that it took to find a big deal. Kazmir’s story is worthy of attention and praise, but it is a story that needs to be monitored to see if he can maintain the same success in Oakland over the next two seasons. His presence will allow the A’s and Beane to shop LHP Brett Anderson at the winter meetings next week, which could net the club some additional win-now resources.

The Tigers No Longer on the Prowl for a Closer

Who Detroit Signed: RHP Joe Nathan (two-year, $20 million)

Why It Matters: Detroit needed a lockdown closer after shuffling through Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, Jose Veras, and Bruce Rondon at closer before Joaquin Benoit took over and did a nice job over the rest of the season. They got their man after signing Joe Nathan away from the Texas Rangers. Nathan closed 80 games out the last two seasons, while posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and at 38 years of age, he doesn’t look to be slowing down after missing the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. After dealing Prince Fielder to improve at second base with Ian Kinsler, moving Miguel Cabrera back to first, and plugging Drew Smyly into the rotation (after dealing Fister), the Tigers will have a completely new look in 2014. With their strong rotation, Nathan’s shutdown ability makes them quite dangerous.

Fish Hook Their Catcher and the Red Sox Snag Another

Who Miami Signed: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three-year, $21 million)

Who Boston Signed: C A.J. Pierzynski (one-year, $8.25 million)

Why It Matters: With a lot of focus heading towards catcher defense and framing, highlighted by the Rays commitments to Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan this winter, other clubs continue to look towards offensive-minded catchers, and the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox locked down their backstops this week. The Marlins seem to have very little hope for a quick turnaround and Saltalamacchia isn’t going to be the other piece to help Giancarlo Stanton and Miami to an NL East title, but it is a start…as long as they don’t trade him before the 2014 season starts. Pierzynski will be on his fifth organization and, despite being hated by some of his competition, he could be a tremendous asset to the character and chemistry that existed within the Boston World Series clubhouse. I guess he is better to have on your team than to play against him.

 

 

Looking Ahead: The 2014 Cincinnati Reds

Votto1While I write about as much of baseball as I can, I always come back to my hometown Cincinnati Reds, a team that I grew up watching that I continue to root for. I’m fairly certain that the 2013 season will end in some sort of playoff appearance, likely a one-game playoff with the St. Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, but I am also not too confident in the club reaching the World Series this season, either. You can say that I am a “doubting Thomas” if you want, but with the talent in St. Louis, Atlanta, and Los Angeles this season, I just don’t see the Reds going very far. For that reason, I wanted to take a look ahead to the 2014 season to see what the club could look like.

The club has a lot of money invested in Joey Votto going forward, but the $20-25 million annual salaries won’t start until 2016. Below is the payroll breakdown for 2014, featuring expected arbitration figures (courtesy Baseball Reference):

Age 2013 2014
Joey Votto 29 $17M $12M
Brandon Phillips 32 $10M $11M
Jay Bruce 26 $7.5M $10M
Bronson Arroyo 36 $16.45M FA
Johnny Cueto 27 $7.4M $10M
Aroldis Chapman 25 $2M $3M
Jonathan Broxton 29 $4M $7M
Sean Marshall 30 $4.5M $5.5M
Ryan Ludwick 34 $2M $8.5M
Mat Latos 25 $4.25M $7.25M
Shin-Soo Choo 30 $7.38M FA
Nick Masset 31 $3.1M FA
Homer Bailey 27 $5.35M Arb-3
Ryan Hanigan 32 $2.05M Arb-3
Jack Hannahan 33 $1M $1M
Mike Leake 25 $3.06M Arb-2
Logan Ondrusek 28 $950k $1.35M
Chris Heisey 28 $1.32M Arb-2
Manny Parra 30 $1M FA
Alfredo Simon 32 $890k Arb-2
Cesar Izturis 33 $800k FA
Zack Cozart 27 $527.5k Pre-Arb-3
Todd Frazier 27 $527.5k Pre-Arb-3
Sam LeCure 29 $510k Arb-1
Xavier Paul 28 $505k Arb-1
Devin Mesoraco 25 $497.5k Pre-Arb-3
J.J. Hoover 25 $492.5k Pre-Arb-2
Corky Miller 37 Arb
Henry Rodriguez 23
Tony Cingrani 23
Pedro Villarreal 25
Justin Freeman 26
Donald Lutz 24
Curtis Partch 26
Derrick Robinson 25
Neftali Soto 24
Shin-Soo Choo Shin-Soo Choo traded to/from Cleveland Indians -$3.5M
Ryan Madson Ryan Madson buyout $2.5M
2013 2014
Signed Players With Guaranteed Contracts (does not include players with options) *27 11
Dollars Committed Value of Guaranteed Contracts (no options are exercised and includes buyouts) *$104.1M $76.6M
Contract Options Players with any type of option
Option Values Maximum value of options if all are exercised
Arb Eligible Number of arbitration eligible players (1st-2nd-3rd-4th, “Arb” players = 3rds) 2-3-2-0
Arb Costs Rough estimated value of all arbitration cases (uses 3-year averages for 1st yr, 2nd,..) $19.3M
Other Players Additional Players Needed to Fill 25-man (no options exercised) 7
Other Costs Estimate of Remaining Players Costs (based on 1-year avg of all pre-arb players) $3.5M
Payroll (no options) Est. Total Payroll w/o Options (Guaranteed + Arb + Other) $99.4M
Payroll (options) Est. Total Payroll w/ Options (Guaranteed + Options + Arb + Other) $99.4M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/24/2013.

With the depth that the club has in starting pitching, barring another lost season from supposed ace Johnny Cueto, the Reds can afford to let Bronson Arroyo walk via free agency, unless, of course, he is willing to take a dramatic pay-cut in his age-37 season. How does the club look as far as depth overall?

Based on the current 40-man roster:

Players reaching free agency – (5) – Arroyo, Manny Parra, Nick Masset, Cesar Izturis, and Shin-Soo Choo

Starting Pitchers – (8) – Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani, Carlos Contreras, Daniel Corcino, and Ismael Guillon

Relief Pitchers – (13) – Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, Nick Christiani, Justin Freeman, JJ Hoover, Sam LeCure, Kyle Lotzkar, Logan Ondrusek, Curtis Partch, Josh Ravin, Alfredo Simon, and Pedro Villareal (has been pitching in relief recently).

Catchers – (3) – Devin Mesoraco, Ryan Hanigan, and Corky Miller

Infielders – (7) – Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, Jack Hannahan, Henry Rodriguez, and Neftali Soto

Outfielders – (7) – Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, Donald Lutz, Derrick Robinson, Xavier Paul, and Yorman Rodriguez

Sizemore1

The loss of Shin-Soo Choo is pretty dramatic considering the skills that he has provided as the leadoff hitter for the Reds, as he is 2nd to Votto in on-base percentage in the National League. His production will have to be replaced, but who can provide the same skills. The Reds were likely hoping for another excellent season from Billy Hamilton, one of the team’s top prospects, in Triple-A Louisville this season, but, while he has stolen 73 bases, he is hitting just .259/.311/.347 after stealing 155 bases and hitting .311/.410/.420 in 2012 over two levels. If the Reds aren’t going to be in on Choo in free agency due to costs, it is also unlikely that they would make a play for Jacoby Ellsbury or Curtis Granderson. However, the club could look to a reclamation project in center to pair with Hamilton, such as: Chris Young (who has an $11 million option with a $1.5 million buyout, coming off of an unspectacular season but still possessing plenty of skills), Franklin Gutierrez ($7.5 million option with a $500,000 buyout, coming off of another injury-filled season but still a solid defender with occasional right-handed pop), or, my wife’s favorite, Grady Sizemore (a player well on his way to a Hall of Fame career before knee injuries stole his ability to stay on the field). Certainly, the club has had decent production, at times, out of Paul, Heisey, and Robinson this season, as they platooned in left field and kept the Reds in contention when Ludwick was out for several months, but they would need to upgrade from that group in center to come close to replacing Choo’s production.

Due to the recent elbow surgery that Jonathan Broxton had to undergo and Sean Marshall‘s inability to pitch for most of the 2013 season, the Reds may need a couple of back-end bullpen arms to pave the way to their shutdown closer, Aroldis Chapman. Bullpens are tough to predict and it wouldn’t be a good idea to invest in another large, multi-year deal (as they did with Broxton) this offseason. Some relievers who will become available may include: Javier Lopez, Rich Hill, J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright, LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Frasor, and Joe Smith.

Additional items the Reds may want to address this coming offseason:

  • Lock up Mat Latos to an extension. Latos is due $7.25 million in 2014 and will be arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2015 prior to reaching free agency prior to the 2016 season. Would the Reds be willing to commit to Latos at five-years, $65 million and is that enough to keep Latos in Cincinnati?
  • Due to Tony Cingrani relying so heavily on his fastball, what can the club do to enhance his secondary pitches so that he can have extended success as a starter? Is he a relief pitcher long-term? With Broxton and Marshall coming off of injury, would it be wise to commit to Cingrani in a set-up role?
  • Should the club re-sign Bronson Arroyo to a one-year deal to keep a rotation spot warm for Robert Stephenson or should they gamble on Cingrani, Carlos Contreras, or Daniel Corcino next season as the No.5 starter? If they look elsewhere in free agency, are pitchers like Colby Lewis, Jason Hammel, Phil Hughes, Josh Johnson, or Ubaldo Jimenez (if he voids his $8 million option) better options than Arroyo?
  • Who is the catcher? Should the Reds truly commit to the offensive potential within the bat of Devin Mesoraco or continue to share the duties between Mesoraco and Hanigan at nearly 50-50?

Cincinnati has a pretty bright future, having locked up Votto, one of the top 15 players in baseball, to be the cornerstone of the franchise, while having solid pieces within the rotation and plenty more talent on the way. Hamilton, Stephenson, Jesse Winker, Phil Ervin, and Michael Lorenzen are going to rise quickly through the organization, just in time for the Reds current 2015 championship window.

Too Much of a Good Thing

CingraniIn 2012, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Mike Leake combined to start 161 of the Cincinnati Reds 162 games, with Todd Redmond starting the second game of a double-header against the Chicago Cubs on August 18. In 2013, the Reds haven’t been quite so lucky with pitching health, as Johnny Cueto lasted just three starts before a strained lat shelved him on April 13.

While losing a pitcher who has managed to go 29-14 with a 2.58 ERA over his last 390 innings would probably leave most teams in a panic, the Cincinnati Reds had the luxury of calling up Tony Cingrani.

Cingrani was dominant in the minor leagues in 2012 and the beginning of the 2013 season, posting an overall 11-4 record, 1.57 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 198:54 K:BB in 160.1 innings. While he managed to get by with his fastball, which he varies the speed on from 88 to 96 miles per hour, it appears to be enough.

After just three starts in Cincinnati, Cingrani is going to make life very, very difficult on Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker. After posting a 28:4 K:BB over his first 18 innings (three starts) with a 1.50 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, who will have to leave the Reds’ rotation to allow the flame-throwing left-hander to continue to occupy a spot in the rotation?

Courtesy: twinsdaily.com
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com

Cueto will be welcomed back with open arms, Homer Bailey has finally become the dominant arm that the Reds hoped he would become when they drafted him, and Mat Latos is basically the 1(b) to Cueto’s 1(a) status as duel aces. That would leave Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake.

Arroyo hasn’t been awful this season. While his 4.24 ERA is a little high, the 1.09 WHIP shows that he is limiting damage by not allowing many base runners. He is averaging just under seven innings per start, as well, and he seems to have a rubber arm, having made 32 or more starts each season dating back to 2005, the poster-boy for reliability.

LeakeLeake had a rough 2012, posting a 4.58 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, but he hasn’t really rebounded to this point; his ERA is 4.34 and his WHIP is up to 1.52. At just 25, Leake still has a very bright future, but he needs to figure out a way to keep the opposition off of the base paths. His BB/9 is at a career high this season (3.4) and his hits per nine innings is 10.2, the highest since his rookie season.

While sending Leake to Triple-A Louisville would allow the Reds to keep their starting pitching depth fresh, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that whoever gets bumped from the rotation will end up in the bullpen. Sean Marshall just returned from an early season disabled list visit, which will greatly assist a pretty brutal group in the bullpen, which was so dominant last year. Outside of Aroldis Chapman (0.73 ERA, 0.65 WHIP) and Sam LeCure (1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), the Reds’ bullpen has combined to go 1-5 with a 5.24 ERA in 55 innings this season.

Cingrani2Would the Reds even consider sending Cingrani to the bullpen at this point? Because of his reliance on his fastball, it would limit his innings while shoring up the back-end of the bullpen, where Jonathan Broxton has been very unimpressive in setting up Chapman. The Reds could then handle Cingrani much like the Atlanta Braves handled Kris Medlen in 2012, allowing him to start from mid-June or early-July until the end of the season, getting valuable innings during a potential playoff run.

While the Los Angeles Dodgers looked to be loaded with starting pitching as spring training broke, only Clayton Kershaw has been worth the price of admission. With Zack Greinke out with a broken collarbone, Chad Billingsley tearing his already torn elbow ligament further, and Aaron Harang traded away, the Cincinnati Reds look to have the most starting pitching depth right now. While the St. Louis Cardinals have plenty of young arms (Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha, to name a few), the Reds have it all ready to go and ready to contribute.

Now…what do they do when Cueto returns?

To Start or Not to Start?

Courtesy: mlbreports.com

 Chapman has made 137 appearances in his brief major league career, all of them out of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen. He has posted a ridiculous 212:69 K:BB in 135 career innings, allowing just 68 hits and compiling a 2.33 ERA and 14.1 K:9 in those 137 appearances.

What more could Chapman do, though? Could he dominate in the same way as a starting pitcher?

Chapman started four games in spring training prior to the 2012 season. He compiled a 1.80 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and a 15:1 K:BB in 15 innings. While it was a small sample size, the focus on location and being smart with his pitch count may have led to his increase in strikeout rate (44.2% in 2012 vs. 34.3% in 2011) and his dramatic decrease in his walk rate (8.3% in 2012 vs. 19.8% in 2011). Chapman’s average fastball also dropped from 98.1 in 2011 to 98.0 in 2012, which isn’t as dramatic as the drop from 99.6 in 2010.

Chapman started 13 games in 2010 when he was coming up through the minors, but he was brought up for the 2010 postseason push, making 15 appearances out of the bullpen in September and another two in the NLDS loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. He then “started” three more games in 2011 in the minors, but those were games that he was in the minors working on his command issues, not legitimate starts to develop arm strength or to stretch him out.

Aroldis Chapman was an All-Star in 2012. He finished 8th in NL Cy Young voting, while finishing 12th in NL MVP voting. Is he replaceable as a closer?

Ryan Madson is coming back from Tommy John surgery and the Reds could sign him at a discount, hoping that he returns to his 2011 form. Madson, after all, posted a 2.89 ERA over 329.2 innings with a 314:97 K:BB from 2007 to 2011 before missing all of the 2012 season.

Courtesy: BleacherReport.com

The Reds could also try to sign Jonathan Broxton, whom they acquired from the Kansas City Royals at the trade deadline in 2012, now a free agent, as well. Broxton posted a solid 2.82 ERA over 25 appearances for the Reds down the stretch. While he doesn’t strikeout nearly as many as he used to (a K:9 of 13.5 in 2009 but just 7.0 in 2012), he is also not issuing as many walks, posting a career best 2.6 BB:9 in 2012.

So, the Reds could have other external options at closer, while possibly handing over closer duties to in-house candidates J.J. Hoover, Logan Ondrusek, Sean Marshall, Nick Massett, or Jose Arredondo. While some fans may worry about how some of those mentioned would handle stressful situations, you never know until they are given the chance.

If Chapman were to move to the rotation, the Reds would have Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Mike Leake to work around him. Could the club shop a starter for a leadoff hitter if they go ahead and count on Chapman, or could they move Leake to closer? Maybe his off speed junk would confuse opposing hitters late in the game?

Then…you have the reasons for concern. One name jumps out for the transition from closer to starter: Neftali Feliz. In his first 154 appearances in the majors, Feliz saved 74 games and posted a 2.55 ERA over 162.2 innings with a 164:56 K:BB. The Texas Rangers then tried to move him to the rotation in 2012, trying to get the most out of their 24-year-old star, but it didn’t go well. Feliz lasted all of eight games, seven starts, and 42.2 innings before being shut down with elbow soreness in May before having Tommy John surgery on August 1.

The Reds have Chapman under team control until after the 2016 season. Is it finally time to see how much he could dominate over 170 to 200 innings, or is he too important at the end of games? Reds fans were, at times, terrified when Danny Graves or Francisco Cordero came out to close games, but, with Chapman, things seemed safe.

Chapman is a fantastic talent, and even if he “only” throws 95 miles per hour as a starter, he still has the stuff to make opposing hitters look foolish. However, are those 32 starts and abundance of innings more valuable to the Reds and their $25.25 million investment than the 70 games that he finishes?

After watching, or not watching, what happened to Neftali Feliz, the Reds should probably keep him in the closer’s role. He has dominated there and there isn’t anything saying Chapman is guaranteed to become Justin Verlander as a starting pitcher. It isn’t like the Atlanta Braves are thinking about moving Craig Kimbrel to starting pitcher this offseason. Some pitchers are designed for certain roles. Chapman has proven that he is a lockdown, shutdown closer. Keep him there and keep your bullpen, which was best in baseball (based on their 2.65 ERA), intact.

With the respectable rotation of Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo, and Leake, the Reds can afford to keep Chapman in that role. And with Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino ready to step into the rotation from the minors, there really isn’t a reason to tamper with the makeup of what worked so well in 2012.

The 2012 Nasty Boys

The Reds surprised many on Tuesday afternoon, acquiring then Royals closer Jonathan Broxton for two solid minor league arms, RHP J.C. Sulbaran and LHP Donnie Joseph. The reason for the surprise – Cincinnati already had the top bullpen in the majors. With Broxton added to the mix, a lot of people around Cincinnati are reminiscing about the 1990 season.

1990 was the last time the Reds went to the World Series. They swept the Oakland A’s and the team dominated throughout the season, never relinquishing first place the entire season, going wire-to-wire, and winning the NL West by five games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The bullpen was led by three men, nicknamed “The Nasty Boys”. Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble, and Randy Myers. All three were 27 years old or younger, and all three of the were dominant out of the bullpen.

Norm Charlton was acquired by the Reds in 1986 from the Montreal Expos. He made it to the majors in 1988, when he started 10 games for Cincinnati. He was moved to the bullpen in 1989, pitching in 69 games and compiling a 2.93 ERA over 95.1 innings. He pitched in relief for most of the 1990 season before moving to the rotation in July. A lot of people forget that about Charlton, though. He went 6-5 with a 2.60 ERA in 16 starts for the World Champion Reds in 1990, while going 6-4 with a 3.02 ERA in 40 appearances as a reliever.

Rob Dibble was the fierce fire-baller for the Reds in 1990. He put up an eye-popping 136:34 K:BB in 98 innings, posting a 1.74 ERA and 11 saves over 68 appearances. Dibble had dominated opponents in 1988 and 1989, as well, going 11-6 with a 1.99 ERA in 158.1 innings, compiling a 200:60 K:BB. Bill Mazeroski had this to say about him in the 1993 Edition of his book on baseball:

“He’s (Rob Dibble) the hardest thrower in the league, bar none. Some people say his fastball doesn’t have much movement. Hell, how much movement do you need when you throw 100?”

Randy Myers officially held the closer title for the Cincinnati Reds in 1990. He went 4-6 with a 2.08 ERA, compiling 31 saves and a 98:38 K:BB in 86.2 innings over 66 appearances. Myers came to Cincinnati from the New York Mets when the Reds dealt John Franco to New York prior to the 1990 season. Myers would start games in 1991 (12 starts, the only games he started in his 728 career games pitched) before being traded to the San Diego Padres prior to the 1992 season.

It was interesting to look back at “The Nasty Boys” and see how many appearances they had with more than one inning pitched. You just don’t see that today, outside of Mariano Rivera, as the two-inning save seems to be a dead art form.

Also, looking back at “The Nasty Boys”, you can see how much the current bullpen resembles them. Charlton and Myers were left-handers, as are Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall. Jonathan Broxton, the recently acquired arm, would relate well to the blazing-armed Dibble.

The 2012 version of “The Nasty Boys” still have some work to do to match the success of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds, but the current “Best Team in Baseball” can rely on these guys quite a bit.

Sean Marshall has gone 4-1 in 38 games since the start of May, posting a 1.65 ERA and a 36:5 K:BB over 32.2 innings. He lost the closer role, but he is doing fine work as a set-up man.

Aroldis Chapman should garner some Cy Young votes, and it is concerning to me that he hasn’t received any hype on that front to this date. Chapman had a brief hiccup in June, but he still is 4-4 with a 1.39 ERA for the season, appearing in 48 games and compiling a 96:14 K:BB in 51.2 innings with 23 saves. At his current rate, he would finish with a 150:22 K:BB in 79.2 innings with 36 saves. Sickening. Opposing batters are hitting just .128 against him.

Jonathan Broxton only had a 2.27 ERA in 35 games, compiling 23 saves for the Kansas City Royals prior to being acquired by Cincinnati. Broxton used to strikeout a lot more hitters (26:14 K:BB this year), but with an average fastball of 94.9 mph this year, he could be one of the best seventh or eighth inning pitchers in the history of baseball.

While Walt Jocketty confused fans by dealing for another bullpen arm instead of a leadoff hitter, the Reds were coming off of their first loss in 11 games after losing to San Diego on Monday night. Why fix what doesn’t appear to be broken? With all of this winning occurring without their superstar, first baseman Joey Votto, it is scary to think of what the team is capable of upon his return.

The whole Reds team looks to be nasty this year, and the bullpen is a fun reminder to 10-year-old me as to what a championship ballclub should look like.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCGfY2l6Niw

You have to watch this link, too. (embedding didn’t work)

2013 Cincinnati Reds

Looking ahead to next season, though the Reds are currently in first place in the NL Central, the Reds have some interesting roster issues to address. Not only do they have arbitration eligible players who can increase payroll significantly, but they’ll have key players with extensions kicking in. Take a look at guaranteed contracts for 2013:

Joey Votto: $17 M

Brandon Phillips: $10 M

Jay Bruce: $7.5 M

Johnny Cueto: $7.4 M

Aroldis Chapman: $2 M

Bronson Arroyo: $11.5 M

Sean Marshall: $4.5 M

Ryan Madson: $2.5 M buyout OR $11 M

Nick Masset: $3.1 M

Ryan Hanigan: $2.05 M

Ryan Ludwick: $500K buyout OR $5 M

Jose Arredondo: $1.2 M

If the Reds buyout Ludwick and Madson, they have $69.25 M locked into 12 players, with only 10 of them returning. If they take on the contracts of both Ludwick and Madson, it goes up to $82.25 M for 12 players. However, it doesn’t end there. The following players are eligible for arbitration after the 2012 season:

Pre-arbitration – players who can have their contracts renewed at the league minimum:

Logan Ondrusek

Sam LeCure

Devin Mesoraco

Zack Cozart

Jordan Smith

Todd Frazier

Arbitration-eligible – players who can be non-tendered or signed through arbitration and receive a raise, with 2012 salaries listed in parenthesis:

Homer Bailey ($2.4 M)

Mat Latos ($550K)

Bill Bray ($1.42 M)

Wilson Valdez ($930K)

Paul Janish ($850K)

Drew Stubbs ($527,500)

Mike Leake ($507,500)

Chris Heisey ($495K)

Alfredo Simon ($487K)

The Reds would be wise to let Homer Bailey walk by being non-tendered, as he shouldn’t be getting a raise considering the inconsistencies that he has shown. He would earn between $3.5-4 M in arbitration. Valdez and Janish are veteran utility players who can be replaced with others who can play defense and not hit…just like them! Stubbs, Leake, and Heisey should all still be affordable in their first year of arbitration, but Latos could be an issue. He will get expensive quickly due to his early success, though it wasn’t with the Reds.

Free-Agents:

Scott Rolen

Miguel Cairo

Willie Harris

So, buyout Ludwick and Madson and keep Heisey in left and Chapman at closer and go from there.

Catchers: Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco

1B: Joey Votto

2B: Brandon Phillips

3B: Todd Frazier

SS: Zack Cozart

LF: Chris Heisey

CF: Drew Stubbs

RF: Jay Bruce

Starting Rotation:

Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, and OPEN

Bullpen:

Jose Arredondo, Bill Bray, Nick Masset, Sam LeCure, Alfredo Simon, Logan Ondrusek, Sean Marshall, and Aroldis Chapman

Bench:

OPEN

Clearly, the Reds would need to fill the bench with about three players: a utility infielder, a super-utility player (infield and outfield), and a good fourth outfielder. They will need to look to free agency to fill those roles. The following players will be free agents and would be worth a look for the Reds:

Jose Lopez – Lopez can play first and third comfortably and second if or when needed. He has done so for the Cleveland Indians in 2012. He is making $800K in 2012 and will be 29 in 2013

Scott Hairston – Hairston may end up on the expensive side of bench players, as his power and versatility will be very valuable on the open market. He currently has an .840 OPS with 10 HR and 31 RBI in just 157 at bats for the New York Mets. Hairston is making $1.1 M in 2012 and has played all three outfield spots this season and some second base in his career.

Grady Sizemore – Injuries MIGHT be gone when he hits free agency after the 2012 season. Sizemore hasn’t had a healthy season since 2008. He is making $5 M in 2012 but hasn’t played in a single game. An incentive-laden contract is a necessity for Sizemore to prove his worth and as a former gold glove caliber center fielder, he can handle all three outfield positions…if healthy.

Ryan Theriot – Theriot is making $1.25 M for the San Francisco Giants while playing primarily shortstop. He played left field late in a game and has played second, short, third, and outfield in recent years.

The open rotation spot should be left to Tony Cingrani, the young left-hander out of Rice, who has dominated the minors this season to the tune of a 7-2 record, 1.47 ERA, 86 IP, 109:21 K:BB, .196 BAA, 0.95 WHIP, including a 15 strikeout, eight shutout inning outing on Wednesday night. It’s worth seeing what you have there. Alfredo Simon or Sam LeCure could fill the number five spot if the Reds don’t sign another veteran arm like: Aaron Cook, Kevin Correia, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Marquis, Joel Piniero, or Chris Young, who could all be cheap options.

It’s never too early to wonder what your team will look like in the future. Maybe Billy Hamilton moves to center and Drew Stubbs or Chris Heisey becomes the team’s fourth outfielder? As the season goes on, trades could be made involving Cingrani or Hamilton to upgrade for 2012, as well. Regardless, the Reds look like an excellent team for this season and could get better by cutting some of the dead weight, namely their entire bench and Scott Rolen.